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Pentagon is asked for report on Iraqi readiness

Assessments critique battle performance

'Congress must have this information,' Ike Skelton said in a letter. "Congress must have this information," Ike Skelton said in a letter.

WASHINGTON -- Despite repeated requests from a House committee chairman and government investigators, the Pentagon has failed to hand over its official assessments of the readiness of US-trained Iraqi security units to take over key functions from the US military.

Representative Ike Skelton of Missouri, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, has demanded that the Pentagon provide the assessments, which critique Iraqi performance on the battlefield, according to a previously unreleased letter. The Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, also has requested the reports as part of a separate inquiry. But the Defense Department has balked on both requests so far, without giving any official explanation.

The field reports, which are known as Transition Readiness Assessments, are compiled every month by US advisers embedded with Iraqi units. They rate each unit's perceived loyalty, battle performance, and ability to supply itself in the field. The reports also chart each unit's ethnic breakdown, which is considered a key to maintaining a multiethnic force that can police sectarian violence.

The reports, Skelton said in a letter to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, are critical to assessing the true state of the estimated 330,000 Iraqi security forces that have been trained to date.

"Congress must have this information in order to carry out its constitutional oversight responsibilities," Skelton said in the March 15 letter. "It is essential that the Congress is provided with the unit-level [transition readiness assessments] as soon as possible."

The letter marked the second time this year the committee has formally asked the Pentagon for the reports. The first time was back in January, according to officials.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon has not met the GAO's request for the reports, according to the officials. The vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Edmund P. Giambastiani , said in a Feb. 21 letter to Skelton that the department was "aiming to reach a consensus with GAO" for the information.

But Skelton made clear last month that he believes the Congress is entitled to all data on Iraqi training. "As TRAs are updated, the department [should] provide those updates to us on a timely and routine basis," the committee chairman wrote.

The Pentagon, for its part, has not said why it has failed to provide the readiness assessments. Inquiries to Gates's press aides and the Joint Chiefs as recently as yesterday went unanswered.

Representative Martin T. Meehan , a Lowell Democrat who heads the new oversight and investigations subcommittee, said in an e-mail that Congress needs far more information to be able to determine when US troops should come home.

The Bush administration has repeatedly pointed to the growing number of newly trained Iraqi security forces as evidence that the country is making progress toward stabilization.

In its latest quarterly report to Congress on Iraq, delivered in March, the Pentagon said the US-led coalition was achieving the goals it set for the number of freshly trained forces, including the army, police, facilities protection officers, and the border patrol.

As of Feb. 7, according to the report, there were a total of 328,700 Iraqi security forces, including 192,300 police and border enforcement officers working for the Ministry of Interior and about 136,400 troops in the Ministry of Defense.

However, the report relies on broad generalizations to describe the relative readiness of particular units. Some units are described in the report as "conducting operations," others as "conducting operations at varying levels."

For example, of 103 Army battalions, 93 "have the lead in counter-insurgency operations," according to the report. Of 27 National Police battalions, meanwhile, "six are in the lead," the report said.

But the reports do not assess the loyalty, range of skills, or capabilities of those units. Even the whereabouts of all of the security forces that have completed training is unclear, according to Olga Oliker , a senior policy analyst at the government-funded Rand Corporation.

"No one knows how many Iraqi security personnel there are today," she told the oversight panel on Thursday. For example, she added in an interview, "it is unknown how many have died or how many have deserted."

The detailed field assessments drafted every month by US advisers, however, would provide a much more accurate view, experts and lawmakers believe.

The advisers' assessments, according to the Pentagon, "measure personnel manning, command and control, training, sustainment, logistics, equipping, and leadership of their partnered units." The data is quantitative in nature, including numbers of personnel and equipment, as well as qualitative, including the on-the-ground impressions of the US advisers who are preparing the Iraqi forces to stand on their own.

Bryan Bender can be reached at bender@globe.com.

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